The etymology of “bureaucracy” derives from the French word for “office” (bureau) and the Ancient Greek for word “power” (kratos). Like the military and police, a legal system’s government servants and bodies that make up its bureaucracy carry out the directives of the executive. One of the earliest references to the concept was made by Baron de Grimm, a German author who lived in France. In 1765 he wrote,
The real spirit of the laws in France is that bureaucracy of which the late Monsieur de Gournay used to complain so greatly; here the offices, clerks, secretaries, inspectors and intendants are not appointed to benefit the public interest, indeed the public interest appears to have been established so that offices might exist.
Cynicism over “officialdom” is still common, and the workings of public servants is typically contrasted to private enterprise motivated by profit. In fact private companies, especially large ones, also have bureaucracies. Negative perceptions of “red tape” aside, public services such as schooling, health care, policing or public transport are a crucial state function making public bureaucratic action the locus of government power.
Writing in the early 20th century, Max Weber believed that a definitive feature of a developed state had come to be its bureaucratic support. Weber wrote that the typical characteristics of modern bureaucracy are that officials define its mission, the scope of work is bound by rules, management is composed of career experts, who manage top down, communicating through writing and binding public servants’ discretion with rules.